Although football matches were played yesterday, August 16th to kick-start activities, the official opening ceremony for the 12th All Africa Games holding in Rabat, Morocco will take place on Monday, August 19.
Nigeria with a contingent of 462 athletes and officials will feature in 22 events in the games that will end on August 31 in Rabat.
Consequently, the African continent is set to witness yet another quadrennial sporting fiesta that promises to thrill sports lovers within and outside the continent.
The All African Games is a multi-sport contest aimed at advancing top-class African Sports and to foster cultural exchanges between the Member States of the African Union.
According to history books, the African Games were first held in 1965, in Brazzaville, Congo and Nigeria hosted the second edition in Lagos just as the number of participating countries rose from 29 to 35.
The third games were held in Algiers in 1978. The games were not held again until 1987, and thereafter they were hosted every four years.
This year’s edition is the 12th and events will be staged in Rabat, Salé, Temara, Casablanca, Benslimane and El Jadida.
For the first time in the history, the All Africa Games will act as Olympics qualification event in 17 sports, for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Nigeria will be represented by 308-strong contingent of elite athletes who will be part of the over 7,000 athletes from 54 countries will be competing in 26 sports disciplines, 17 of which are qualifying to the Olympic Games of Tokyo 2020.
Going by the level of preparation for the games, optimism is quite high that Team Nigeria will put up a good show in Rabat. The relevant sports federations have ensured that the best athletes were selected for the games.
The Federal Ministry of Sports and the Nigeria Olympics Committee also provided the necessary support for the selected athletes to prepare adequately for the games in Morocco.
And Team Nigeria aware of its areas of strength has channeled its energy into events that the country has comparative advantage at the All Africa Games.
In athletics, 2018 Youth Olympics 100m champion Rosemary Chukwuma is highly favoured to deliver a gold medal for the country. In addition, Sunmisola Balogun who became an African wrestling champion at just 16 is another gold medal prospect and she will be joined by five-time African champion Odunayo Adekuoroye and Olympian Blessing Oborududu to haul medals in wrestling.
Football is Nigeria’s most popular sport and the male and female teams are automatically considered to be formidable enough to bring home medals for the country in Morocco.
Up-to 30 countries are expected to feature in the table tennis event with Olympic berths up for grabs but this is another stronghold for Team Nigeria.
Three-time African Games champions Omar Assar and Dina Meshref will be looking to defend their titles from Brazzaville 2015. The onus will now fall on Nigeria’s number one pair of Quadri Aruna and Olufunke Oshonaike to change the narratives.
Quadri is looking to play at his third Olympics Games while 43-year-old ‘Funke’s goal is to compete at her seventh Games in Tokyo which can only come to fruition if the duo win medals.
Gymnastics is beginning to take firm roots in Nigerian sports and will be returning to the African Games for only a second appearance.
American-born Uche Eke is aiming high as he is poised to win Nigeria’s first gymnastics medal. The Computer Science engineering student at Michigan State University made his debut for Nigeria at an invitational tournament in 2017.
According to statistics gotten from the Nigeria Olympics Committee, Eke will be competing in pommel horse, vault, high bar and on parallel bars.
Over the year’s Nigeria has dominated the games in Weightlifting but Egyptians have narrowed the gap. Therefore, 2019 All Africa Games will be a straight contest between the two nations in weightlifting.
The weightlifting competition will serve as Olympic qualifier, which means that most nations are expected to send full teams of 10 men and 10 women lifters.
Boxing, just like weightlifting, has provided another avenue for Nigeria to rake in more medals but winners will not automatically qualify for the Olympics.
This is a result of the decision to suspend the recognition of the International Boxing Federation, AIBA, the African Games will not serve as an Olympic qualifier.
Prior to the departure of Team Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari made a promise to support the athletes and their officials with whatever they need to succeed in Morocco.
Buhari who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Gida Mustapha at the handing over ceremony and farewell of Team Nigeria to the Nigeria Olympic Committee in Abuja on Wednesday also urged the athletes to ‘play clean, stay clean and win clean’.
“We expect our athletes to do well in Morocco and bring back laurels. We are confident they will do and the expectation is high. We will support them with what they require and do well in Morocco.
“Let me equally assure that the federal government is fully committed to the successful participation in the African Gamesa and will ensure the welfare of the team is adequately taken care of”, he said.
Emeka Emmanuel, a handball player who spoke during the farewell ceremony said they are looking forward to making the nation proud as he expressed hope that their welfare will be taken care of.
“I am expecting the best from our team after spending 41 days in camp. The federation tried their best as we were given enough kits. We just came back from ITF world cup in Georgia.
“I’m not 100% sure of victory because I’m not God but I’m expecting a medal. I believe this government will take good care of us as promised and we won’t disappoint the country in Morocco, he said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s record in All Africa Games since inception shows the country has attended 11 editions (it will be 12 this year), carted home in total 1199 medals. Team Nigeria has won 424 gold medals, 395 silver medals and 380 bronze medals.
However, Nigeria has won the games once and that was in 2003 when the country hosted the 8th All Africa Games in Abuja at the newly built Abuja National stadium now MKO Abiola stadium.
Without doubt, Team Nigeria has always been a force to reckon with in the games. At the last All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville, Nigeria won 47 gold, 55 silver and 42 bronze medals to place second behind Egypt who amassed 85 gold, 64 silver and 68 bronze medals to win the games.
It is therefore expected that at the 2019 All Africa Games in Morocco, the high morale in the camp of Team Nigeria will yield podium appearances that will hand Nigeria her second All African Games triumph.